Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In the Balance

Last week's arrest of  Naoko Kikuchi, one of the last two fugitives from the deadly 1995 Tokyo subway poison gas attack that was carried out by the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult, has rekindled  painful memories here. Former journalist, Yoshifu Arita, has been quoted in the press as saying “Japan still hasn’t come to terms with what happened,” adding “most Japanese just try to put it out of mind as an extreme act done by extreme individuals.”

Kikuchi's surprise arrest has also led to the discovery of the whereabouts of Katsuya Takahashi, now the last remaining wanted suspect in what has been described as the most heinous act of domestic terrorism in Japan's history. Until just a few days ago, Takahashi had been living a hop skip and a jump away from Temple Valley in nearby Saiwai ward, Kawasaki CityIn fact the wanted pair had apparently been hiding in plain sight for over a decade, Kikuchi working as an adult caregiver and Takahashi for a building contractor. In the wake of her arrest the New York Times notes that many have come to see Kikuchi "as an almost tragic figure, someone misguided as a youth who later just wanted to live a normal life."

Now the country is once again on high alert as the police enlist the eyes of the nation to help them track down Takahashi, the last remaining Aum holdout who is now on the run. This past weekend Temple Vallians awoke to the sound of whirring chopper blades hovering over their rooftops.  A voice emanating from the sky-high Kawasaki BK117 whirlybird blurted an urgent message to be on the lookout for Takahashi, a male of medium build with black hair and dark eyes...(the rest was kind of drowned out by the helicopter engine and wind currents). It was an alarming call, especially since the description fit half the people in my neighborhood (excluding me - thank God). 

Given the fact that every other Aum member convicted in the subway sarin gas attack has been handed a death sentence, there wouldn't seem to be much incentive for Takahashi to turn himself in. In light of the information available to the public it would also seem that Takahashi and Kikuchi have been leading quite ordinary lives over the decade and a half since the commission of the criminal act for which they have been accused. Again according to the Times "Ms. Kikuchi’s apparent desire for a second chance reminded some Aum observers of what they say is the continued vulnerability of Japanese youth to cult leaders who fool them with promises of some greater cosmic meaning and an escape from the rigid confines of their lives." The statement suggests a root cause behind the 1995 subway attack that stretches beyond the individuals directly involved. While the recent surfacing of these two fugitives has opened old wounds, maybe it offers the nation an opportunity to look into its soul as well. 

I wonder if Takahashi were captured and tried along with Kikuchi under the country's three-year-old citizen judge system, how much weight a panel of their peers would give to the kind of lives the two have led while on the lam. Would they tip the scales of justice in favor of leniency and allow them to live out the balance of their lives in a way that could benefit society or would justice turn a blind eye to any hope for the redemption these two individuals and perhaps us all?

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